ask and ye shall learn Blogging Challenge Week One

This year, for our Student Blogging Challenge, I’m adapting some of the Edublogs challenges. I found last year that while there were some that worked really well for our class, there were others that didn’t align well with what we were doing in class.

However, the first challenge is a crucial one for any blogger, and that is to introduce yourself to your audience. There are, therefore, three things you’re going to do this week: first, create an avatar; second, write an About Me page or intro blog post; and third, read and comment on your classmates’ pages or posts.

Continue reading ask and ye shall learn Blogging Challenge Week One

Living with Gratitude

Thanksgiving, as a holiday, has a bad reputation in many ways. There are those who point out that it celebrates the colonization of the First Peoples … and they’re not wrong in saying that. As such, I think it’s important that we acknowledge that the origins of the holiday come from a place that we’re trying to heal as a nation.

The opportunity to practice gratitude, however, is one I don’t think we practice as a society often enough. We are quick to say when something bothers us, when something has gone wrong or someone has done something we don’t like; we are less inclined to speak up when something is going well. We take the good times for granted and complain about the bad.

So today, I want to reflect on the things I’m thankful for as a teacher. My school has an incredible staff on it, many of whom are doing a lot for students both inside their classrooms and outside of them. We are able to offer many extra-curriculars because staff are willing to sponsor them. In my departments, I love that we can disagree respectfully, and still listen to and learn from each other. The Humanities department has such a passion for making the transition to grade eight easier for our students, and the English department works tirelessly to give students an opportunity to express themselves creatively in a variety of media. (On that note … post your #Tweetsmuir scary stories!!)

I’m immensely grateful for my students – for all of my students. Yes, there are those who share similar passions for reading, writing or medieval history, who work hard in class and love learning, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with them. Yet I’m equally grateful for the opportunity to work with those students who are passionate about different things, who don’t enjoy the subject(s) I teach and who would prefer to be almost anywhere else. These are the students who help me grow as a teacher, who drive a lot of the learning I do. They inspire me to try and become a better teacher, to offer more opportunities for learning and more ways to do it.

Finally (well, not finally, but the last one I’m going to talk about here), I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with Ms Boparai and the other student teachers. They help keep me connected to the current research around education and learning, but more, they force me to consider my own practice and reflect on why I do or believe what I do. They are creative and keen and the students enjoy the opportunity to work with them as much as I do. I learn a lot from them, and they cause me to (productively) examine my philosophy and practices.

So … although I may not appreciate the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday, I do appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the many blessings I have. Practicing gratitude is a mindfulness technique, though one we haven’t tried yet. I am grateful for the reminder to focus on the many ways those around me contribute to my life. Thank you.

Reflecting on Reflecting

One of the hardest things to do for students is to reflect – truly reflect – on their learning or on a topic. One of the hardest things to do for teachers is to teach students how to reflect.

The problem is that reflecting can be done in many different ways. People can reflect on topics, on strategies, on things they found interesting or things they found confusing. People can consider reasons something went well or badly and can explore changes to make for the future.

I tell my students that reflecting is looking back to move forward. It is a form of metacognitive thinking, which is a fancy way of saying “thinking about thinking.” When you reflect, you consider your learning (how you learned, why your strategies were effective or not) and what that means for future learning, or learning in a different subject. For example, perhaps you notice that you understand things better in class after having had a chance to discuss it with your group. How could you use that knowledge to improve your understanding in all of your subjects? What would you need to do?

Or maybe you find that when you have “group discussions,” you quickly get off track and think of random observations from your life or YouTube. What are some ways that you could keep yourself focused? Why do you think those strategies might work? How will you implement them?

Continue reading Reflecting on Reflecting

Celebrations, Traditions and Festivities (Blogging Challenge Week 8)

(crossposted to our senior classes’ blog)

In Western cultures, we often refer to the winter season as the festive season. For many, it starts with Thanksgiving, and ends with New Year’s Day or the lunar new year (also called the Chinese New Year). Different cultures celebrate different holidays throughout the darker months of the year – some of the most well known are Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Winter Solstice and Chinese New Year, but they are by no means the only celebrations that occur at this time. Each family has its own traditions for the winter holidays, some based in culture, some based in religion or spirituality, and some based simply in connecting with friends and family. For this week in the Student Blogging Challenge, we’re going to learn a little bit about each other and the traditions and festivities we celebrate.

First of all, I would like you to go complete this poll. Make sure you use the “Other” category if you celebrate something not on their list – or, correspondingly, if your cultural and/or religious beliefs lead you not to celebrate any traditional cultural or religious holidays (because not all people do).

Second, although there are a number of different activities on the Student Blogging Challenge post, I would like to see you choose to respond to either Task One or Task Two (or both, if you want) – I’m curious about your family’s traditions. I’m going to alter the phrasing a little bit, though:

Task One: Family Celebrations

What is the most important tradition you and your family share in the winter season? It may or may not be related to a religious celebration; write about something that you do together that “marks” the holiday or winter season for you. Explain its significance in some detail – remember, you’re trying to engage your audience with your writing.

Task Two: Photo Spark

Take or create an image that represents winter or winter celebrations for you, and write an explanation of why or how it does so. Remember our learning around copyright – don’t select a photo that someone else has created or taken without their permission, either directly or in the form of a Creative Commons license.

If you’d like to check out some of the other activities – and you’re welcome to do them IN ADDITION to one or both of the above tasks – you can find them here:
Continue reading Celebrations, Traditions and Festivities (Blogging Challenge Week 8)

Scientific Discipline(s) (Blogging Challenge Week 6)

(crossposted to our senior classes’ blog)

Although much of what we’ve been doing in the Student Blogging Challenge (and, for that matter, outside of it) has been related to some form of reading and writing, blogging doesn’t have to be limited to those areas. The thing that I enjoy about blogging the most is that I can express myself in any discipline – the best blogs are ones where people choose to share their passions and interests or explore ideas and thoughts. To illustrate that, this week’s blogging challenge is on the topic of Science.

Science, in fact, is made up of a number of different disciplines, from the ones you’re probably familiar with from school (biology, chemistry, physics) to more specialized areas (psychology, meteorology, astronomy, neuroscience, immunology, geology, botany). Scientific disciplines are generally separated into the physical sciences, such as chemistry and physics; the earth sciences, such as geology and meteorology; and the life sciences, such as biology and botany.

This week, you’re going to blog about something related to science that interests you. You may research and share something about which you are curious, test your readers’ knowledge, or create a scientific alphabet. You must do one of the tasks below and post the link to the challenge (plus, as always, read and comment on other peoples’ blog posts).

I look forward to learning from you!

Continue reading Scientific Discipline(s) (Blogging Challenge Week 6)

Similarities, Differences and Conflict: Reflecting on Remembrance Day (Blogging Challenge: Week Five)

The focus for this week’s Student Blogging Challenge is “We’re All The Same … We’re All Different.” Thinking about that, and thinking about this week in history, struck me. This Remembrance Day marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I. WWI was called “the Great War” and was said to be “the war that ends all wars” … and yet less than thirty years later, World War II broke out. Next year will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II. Although we haven’t had another “world war” since then, we’ve had multiple conflicts that have involved multiple countries. We are all human, and yet as societies, there is still so much violence in our reactions to differences between us.

So this week, I’m going to ask you to go in a slightly different direction with our blogging challenge. One of the things I’ve noticed in past years is that many students your age – and even many adults – don’t really mark Remembrance Day. They attend the assemblies, but when it comes to November 11, and thinking about the sacrifices that were made to bring us the human rights that are so celebrated in Canada and many western countries and so absent in others … November 11 is simply a day off school or off work.

Your tasks, therefore, are to choose one of the following options:

  • Learn about and share information on one of the two World Wars, explaining why students your age should mark Remembrance Day.
  • Learn and write about a current conflict that is wracking the world, and explain why we should know about the conflict.
  • Interview older family members and, with their permission, share their experiences of the war(s).
  • Come up with another topic, something related to Remembrance Day, and propose it to me.

This is meant to be a thoughtful reflection about Remembrance Day, and I will expect detailed, reflective, well-written blogs. Although I’m not expecting an essay, I am expecting more than a short paragraph or two. Consult the I’m a Blogger page or see this post for advice about writing good blogs.

🏫✍ … 😃😉😜? 👏👏👏 (Blogging Challenge: Week Four)

(crossposted to our senior classes’ blog)

Perhaps you can tell from our title (or perhaps it’s just appeared as those boxes that occur when we use emojis) … this week’s challenge is about emojis. It’s the first time the Student Blogging Challenge has used emojis for one of the topics, and I’ll admit I 🙄 when I saw the title in my inbox.

However, visual literacy is a part of reading and comprehending texts, and emojis are one of the fastest growing “languages” in the world, such that 😂 was the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2015. Different emojis combined send different messages in the texting world (and translating those messages is not something restricted to teenagers, by the way; more adults than you might prefer know the various combinations). We’ve learned a lot about some pretty key aspects of blogging in the past few weeks, so although emojis aren’t something you want to include in more formal posts, it may be fun to play around with them this week. (Besides, knowing your audience is crucial as a writer: knowing when and when not to use emojis can be part of that.)

Continue reading 🏫✍ … 😃😉😜? 👏👏👏 (Blogging Challenge: Week Four)

Ethical Imaging (Blogging Challenge: Week Three)

(crossposted to our senior classes’ blog)

Part of the advantage of blogging in relation to other forms of writing is the ability to use images to support our message and make our content more visual. People understand us better when we use pictures and other media, because then they’re getting the information in a variety of different ways. Besides – well-chosen pictures catch the eye much as a well-chosen hook catches our attention when we start to read.

Unfortunately, when it comes to using images in our posts, novice bloggers often end up stealing from other people. Google is great to help you find images, but just because it is on Google doesn’t mean you can use it. Much like plagiarism is an offence to those who create a piece of writing, posting images that don’t belong to you without permission (and permission is not the same as merely showing where you got the photo) is an intellectual offence. If you’ve put your time and effort into creating or taking amazing images, it’s incredibly frustrating to see them pop up all over the internet without your permission or attribution (what it’s called when you say who created or took the image).

In short, unless it is stated otherwise, everything you find on the internet is covered by copyright, and you can’t use it without permission. (For some of you, that means you’re going to need to find a new avatar picture.)

Continue reading Ethical Imaging (Blogging Challenge: Week Three)

Virtual Conversations (Blogging Challenge: Week Two)

(adapted and crossposted to our senior classes’ blog)

The reason we post about our learning and share our writing on blogs (or online in general) is to connect with an audience. In school, most writing doesn’t go beyond the classroom, and it’s not meant to be read by anyone besides the teacher. This isn’t real writing. Writers create their pieces to share with an audience, whether it’s through physical or online media. They submit writing to anthologies and magazines and newspapers; they try to find agents and publishers; they share their writing in various online archives.

As a writer, we are buoyed and excited by the positive comments that readers leave. They inspire us and fuel us as we write more. Not all comments that are left are positive, and we must learn to deal with the negative ones, but even then most people are constructively critical rather than hurtfully so. Regardless, receiving any comment at all means at least that someone is reading our work.

However, writing comments that move the conversation and learning forward is a skill we need to acquire and practice. Blogs are written in a different medium than Writers’ Workshop pieces, which are a more formal style of writing. We’ll talk about writing good blog posts later, but for now what you need to remember is that the point of a blog is to prompt conversation (see the bottom of this post to explore possibilities if you’re uncertain, or read I’m a Blogger).

This week’s tasks from the challenge are:


For our class, you may choose any one of the available tasks (see the Challenge blog post for more detailed instructions for each task) or create a blog post about why commenting is important for you personally, as well as read and comment on people’s blogs – both those by people within the class and those by people in other parts of the country or world. Ensure that your comments are thoughtful, considerate, and properly written, and make sure they contain content to which someone could reply in order to continue the conversation. (If you find someone who’s blog interests you enough that you want to return to it and see what else they write, click “Follow” and their posts will show up in your Reader on the Dashboard.) Always click “Notify me of follow-up comments” so that you can see if someone replies to your comment. Remember that you should be keeping an eye on the comments on your posts as well and responding to as many as you can.

When you’re finished your post – whether you’ve uploaded a poster or a video, or you’ve posted about why commenting is important – make sure to submit your post’s URL to the challenge (remember that a post URL includes a date – click on the heading for your post and then copy and paste the website address that shows up).

Continue reading Virtual Conversations (Blogging Challenge: Week Two)

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